If you get injured in an accident with an underinsured driver, it doesn’t always mean you will end up paying for your losses out of your own pocket. You may have several options for obtaining full compensation for the harm you’ve suffered. An experienced car accident lawyer can review your case and handle the process of getting you the maximum payment available from at-fault parties and insurance companies.
What is an underinsured driver?
Underinsured driver refers to a motorist who causes an accident but does not carry enough auto liability insurance to cover the damages it inflicts on others.
Being an underinsured driver isn’t necessarily illegal or even improper. Crashes frequently cause damage that exceeds the at-fault driver’s auto liability insurance limits, especially in states with relatively low minimum coverage amounts. Generally speaking, being underinsured is only illegal or improper if drivers carry less than the minimum coverage required by the state where their vehicle is registered, or no coverage at all (in which case they are deemed “uninsured”).
In other words, a driver can carry insurance that meets legal requirements and still qualify as underinsured. Indeed, drivers don’t necessarily know that they’re underinsured for accident liability until a crash actually happens. Only then is it possible to compare the losses the accident caused to the amount of insurance the driver carries.
For example, a driver in Nevada who carries the state-mandated minimum bodily injury liability coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident might not be underinsured for causing a minor fender bender in which the victim suffers a sprained wrist, which might cost less than $1,000 to treat.. But that same driver might be massively underinsured against triggering a 10-car highway pileup resulting in multiple fatalities and millions of dollars in damages.
How do you know if your accident involved an underinsured driver?
You usually can’t know in advance. You can only determine a driver’s underinsured status after an accident that caused injuries and financial losses. Then, it’s a matter of comparing the value of your potential claim for damages against the coverage limits of the driver’s accident liability insurance.
Compensation You Can Claim vs. Coverage Amount
As the victim of a motor vehicle accident caused by the driver of another vehicle or the vehicle you were a passenger in, you generally have the legal right to receive full compensation for your financial and non-financial harm.
That typically includes payment for your:
- Medical expenses in treating crash-related injuries
- Costs of repairing or replacing a damaged vehicle or other personal property
- Other out-of-pocket expenditures related to living with or adapting to your injuries
- Lost income and benefits from missing work while healing
- Loss of future earning potential due to an accident-related disability
- Physical pain and discomfort from injuries or medical treatments
- Emotional difficulties caused by the trauma of the accident or injuries
- Diminished quality of life and personal relationships
- Scarring and disfigurement
A court may also decide to award you additional, punitive damages if the driver caused the accident by engaging in extreme or intentional misconduct.
An experienced accident injury lawyer can review your circumstances and determine the types and amounts of damages you have the legal right to receive. If the total amount of those damages exceeds the limits of the driver’s auto liability insurance coverage, the driver is underinsured. Don’t be surprised if that’s the case—given the high cost of medical care and the relatively low minimum insurance amounts in many states, underinsured driver cases are quite common.
Underinsured Driver Doesn’t Always Mean Uncompensated Victim
If the at-fault driver in your accident turns out to be underinsured, don’t lose hope of recovering full (or nearly full) compensation. You may still have lots of options for making up the difference between what the driver’s insurance covers and what you need to pay your bills and plan for the future. Here are some of the ways that can happen when you hire an experienced accident lawyer to handle your case.
Your Own Insurance May Cover Some Losses
Various common forms of insurance that you may carry could cover losses you suffered in an accident with an underinsured driver. For example, you may carry health, long-term disability, or personal injury protection (PIP) insurance that pays some of your medical expenses and other financial losses in an accident.
Many people also purchase underinsured motorist (UM) coverage as an add-on to their auto insurance policy. The explicit purpose of UM coverage is to make up the difference between your accident-related damages and what an underinsured at-fault driver’s liability insurance covers. This includes your non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
An experienced accident injury lawyer can handle the process of obtaining compensation for you under any insurance policies you purchased. It’s often especially beneficial to have your attorney manage a claim under your UM coverage (if you carry it), because proving that claim to an insurance company or a court requires demonstrating the underinsured driver’s liability for the crash and your total damages.
The At-Fault Driver May Have Other Assets
The driver at-fault for your accident has personal liability to you for the damages you suffered. The driver’s insurance may pay some of that amount, but whatever remains unpaid is a debt the driver owes to you out of his or her own pocket. The law gives you the right to pursue that payment from the driver directly.
Sometimes, of course, that’s not worth the effort. Many people do not have large bank accounts or other significant assets that creditors can seize to pay a debt. State law also shelters some assets from debt collection. And people facing crushing debts can often discharge them by filing for bankruptcy protection.
But that’s no reason to assume the underinsured driver can’t pay out of pocket for your remaining losses. It’s always a possibility. An experienced attorney can dig into the details to determine if the driver has the means to compensate you and if so, can take appropriate legal action to pursue payment.
Another Party May Owe You Damages
The at-fault, underinsured driver might not be the only party who owes you compensation for the harm you suffered in an accident. Commonly, multiple parties bear at least some responsibility for a crash. When that’s the case each of them may have a legal obligation to pay damages to you.
The most reliable way to find out if someone other than the underinsured driver owes you compensation is to hire an experienced attorney to handle your claim. An attorney has the resources and experience to investigate what happened and identify all parties who might bear some of the blame.
Every accident differs, of course, but a lawyer may discover that in addition to the driver, liability for your losses also rests with:
- The driver’s employer, if the crash occurred in the course of the driver performing work duties
- A second motorist whose dangerous actions behind the wheel of a vehicle led to the accident
- A manufacturer of defective vehicle parts that triggered the crash
- A public or private entity responsible for unreasonably dangerous road conditions that played a role in causing the accident
- A bar, restaurant, or social host that served alcohol to an underage drunk driver
Any party that shares liability with the underinsured driver might also carry insurance to cover your losses. By pursuing payment from these multiple sources, an attorney may succeed in obtaining additional compensation for you over and above the amount available from the underinsured driver’s insurance policy.
Protecting Your Rights After an Accident With an Underinsured Driver
The steps you take after getting hurt in an accident caused by an underinsured driver can affect your chances of recovering maximum monetary damages. Following these tips can help to protect your rights.
Get Immediate Medical Attention
Always seek medical attention as soon as possible after getting into an accident. Never delay or avoid getting care because you suspect the at-fault driver is underinsured. That could be a costly error in the long-run.
Go to the doctor even if you think you escaped an accident without severe injuries. Taking a wait-and-see approach or ignoring aches and pains could put your health at serious risk. Some potentially life-threatening injuries like brain trauma and internal bleeding do not necessarily show immediate symptoms. Only trust a qualified medical professional to examine you and diagnose your condition. If a doctor finds injuries, begin treatment immediately and obey all recommendations for your care.
Following this tip doesn’t just protect your health, it also safeguards your legal rights. The medical records the doctor keeps of your care can serve as critical evidence in a claim for damages. Getting treatment also usually amounts to a condition of receiving full compensation—if you let your condition worsen on its own, your claim will likely lose value.
Contact a Lawyer Right Away
Once you have taken the necessary steps to address your immediate medical needs, contact an experienced accident injury lawyer to discuss your options. Lawyers offer free consultations to accident victims like you, so you don’t need to worry about paying for their time (even if you decide not to hire them).
Connecting with a lawyer immediately protects you in a host of ways. It maximizes your chances of building a strong case for damages against not just the underinsured driver, but other parties as well. It minimizes your risk of missing a critical deadline for asserting your rights to compensation. It shields you from aggressive insurance adjusters and defense lawyers. And it puts a skilled advisor and advocate in your corner who knows how to manage your situation and get you the most money possible for your losses.
Accident lawyers are affordable. In addition to offering free consultations, they routinely work for injured clients like you on a contingent fee basis. Instead of charging upfront fees or hourly rates, they only get paid out of the money they secure for you. You pay nothing unless they get you results.
Do Not Agree to a Settlement Without Consulting a Lawyer
Insurance companies and defense lawyers have been known to contact accident victims like you to offer quick cash settlements of your claim. It’s an especially common tactic when an insurance company recognizes its policyholder was at-fault for the accident and that your damages will likely require the insurer to pay the maximum policy amount.
Do not agree to accept a quick settlement offer made directly to you without first consulting with an experienced lawyer. Offers made this way rarely pay you the amount you have the right to receive. They may not even pay you the maximum available under the underinsured driver’s policy. But if you agree to them, you could lose your rights to full payment.
Insurance companies make quick, lowball offers hoping that you’ll take the money before you realize a lawyer could get you much more by negotiating on your behalf. Don’t let them get away with it. Refer any offer you receive to an experienced attorney to handle for you.
Contact an Experienced Underinsured Driver Accident Lawyer Today
Getting hurt and suffering financial harm in an accident caused by an underinsured driver doesn’t mean you won’t get paid for your losses. An experienced accident injury lawyer can handle the process of seeking compensation on your behalf and get you the maximum payment available. Multiple parties—not just the underinsured driver—may owe you monetary damages. Reach out to a personal injury lawyer.
Don’t wait to protect your legal rights after an accident with an underinsured driver. Contact an experienced underinsured driver accident lawyer today for a free consultation to learn about your options and what a skilled legal professional can do for you.